The Key is the Coach


After transitioning a church in Columbus, Ohio, Jay is now the assistant pastor/cell coordinator of Clearpoint Church in Houston,
Texas. Clearpoint is a 10-year old cell church that anticipates over 80 adult and youth cells by the end of 2000.

I’m a card-carrying coach for my son’s T -ball team. For this honor, the National Youth Sports Coaches Association taught me things like, “Don’t tell an injured player lying motionless on the field to get up and run it off.” So I now press 7-year-old boys and girls to endure a 90-minute game on Saturdays, and in the process they sometimes catch the ball and run the bases in the right direction. They’re learning.

Teams need the direction of a coach to get down the basics, to play well together and to win. A group of 7-year-olds without training, direction and encouragement will languish on the playing field. My goal as a T -ball coach is to help my team learn the essentials that will cause them to fall in love with baseball so they can enjoy it all their lives.

Frankly, coaching cell leaders isn’t a whole lot different.

Our church’s mission is to meet people where they are and to grow them into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. Through cells, we seek to accomplish this by encouraging our people to grow spiritually, know community, reach lost people and raise leaders. Coaches make sure that all the cells under him or her stay on track to accomplish these objectives.

Getting off track, unfortunately, is far too easy. We tend to get lazy about accountability relationships, or we fear transparency and hide behind an “everything’s OK” mask. One of Satan’s favorite tricks is to pull the group off balance by getting members to focus solely on, say, evangelism but ignore transparent relationships or spiritual growth. Balance in a cell is as important as balance on your car. I get my Michelin tires rotated and balanced every 6,000 miles because good tires can go bad otherwise.

Like the technician at my garage, a good coach keeps his cells in balance. They regularly watch over the condition of their cells, and they step in and correct any problem when they see imbalance or undue strain. That’s why David Yonggi Cho, pastor of Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, Korea – the world’s largest church – says, “THE most important role in cell ministry is that of the section leader (a coach).”

I have discovered a key difference between cell church systems that work and those that don’t: Strong cell systems include quality coaches who love cells and pass that joy along so cell leaders can effectively pastor five to fifteen people. Good coaches enable the system to work because they equip and support the shepherds, the cell leaders. They model, mentor and manage in a way that motivates cell leaders to stay at their task and produce Kingdom impact in the lives of their cell members.


Coaches model the ability to pastor people through cell groups. Coaches are raised up within the cell system, rather than appointed, because you can’t train others to do what you are unable to do yourself. Don’t merely decide that each of your elders will be a coach, or that someone will make a good coach because he or she is a godly person. Coaches must know from personal experience how to help people mature spiritually, experience community, extend themselves to their lost friends, and raise leaders within the context of cell life.

At East Side Grace Brethren Church, we are seeing anew just how critical modeling is. From the beginning, we have operated in a five-by-five cell model, meaning that each coach steps out of cell leadership to fully focus on the five cells he or she oversees. Each
coach belongs to a cell but no longer leads a cell. We recently realized that a yearning to “get back to the action” of cell leading was frustrating some of our coaches. To meet their need, we are restructuring our coaches’ duties so each will lead a cell and oversee one or two other cell leaders. Certainly, any coach who has been a proven cell leader understands the authority gained in being able to direct a cell leader on the basis of past experience. This authority strengthens when coaches speak out of their current experience as well.

For example, I am a cell leader and a coach. I encourage my cell members to build relationships with people who don’t know Jesus, so I earn the right to tell the cell leaders I coach to do the same. When I juggle my schedule to meet a cell member for breakfast, I gain the clout to push my cell leaders to do the same. A cell leader cannot readily dismiss the direction of a coach if that coach is following his or her own advice, and with success. That is the power of modeling. Coaches who aren’t currently leading a cell, model for their leaders by how they live out cell life and cell evangelism. This is why we insist that every coach be part of a cell. Our coaches meet together regularly and love one another, but this isn’t a cell. To effectively model the New Testament lifestyle to the leaders they oversee, coaches (as well as every pastor on staff) must live out a dedicated cell life,
accountable in relationships and evangelism.


Another of the coaches’ responsibilities is managing the cell leaders under their care. In this capacity, they ensure that cell leaders
practice the skills necessary to correctly lead a healthy, thriving cell.

Our coaches regularly attend the gatherings of their cell leaders, in part to show support for the group and their leader. Taking part in meetings and outreach events gives coaches a feel for the cells and for what is or isn’t going on there. Visits put them in touch with their under shepherds’ (cell leaders’) members. These also are opportunities to observe the cell leaders “on the job,” to find out what is and isn’t working. A coach’s feedback can correct a bad habit, such as a cell leader doing all the talking during the meeting or not beginning or ending the meeting on time. Maybe a leader isn’t sharing the facilitation with an intern or isn’t comfortable giving away portions of the meeting. A coach will recognize these and other shortfalls, as well as positive actions, and provide ongoing, fresh evaluations of the leaders’ strengths and weaknesses.

The coach also is the vision caster for his or her leaders. My experience is that people stray from the vision if they aren’t regularly reminded of it. Nehemiah discovered the same thing when, halfway through the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall, the people needed
reinvigorating to complete the task (Nehemiah 4:10). Nehemiah reminded the people of their vision, and they completed the project in a mind-boggling 52 days! This led Rick Warren, author of “The Purpose Driven Church,” to conclude that people need to be reminded of the vision every 26 days, or roughly once a month.

Likewise, your cell leaders will lose track of their vision. Their cells will digress into self-focused clubs or denigrate into “nice”
weekly meetings. Perhaps members will grow complacent about pushing each other toward spiritual maturity. These are the outcomes when a cell loses sight of evangelism, or when the cell gathering becomes a cognitive time to discuss scriptures and pray instead of a time to be transparent about what’s really going on in members’ lives. Good coaches know when cells and their leaders stray from the vision, and they work with the leaders to bring the cells back on track.

Administration and paperwork also fall under managing. Each of our cell leaders submits a weekly report to his or her coach. This report tells the coach what happened in the cell gathering that week (who was there, what they did, any special needs or concerns that arose). More importantly, though, the report highlights the leader’s efforts to be involved in the lives of the cell members. A cell leader’s greatest impact occurs not during the meeting but between the meetings, when he or she is connecting with members and facilitating “community happening.” For example, are they talking with their members during the week, either in person or on the phone? Are they sharing mealtimes with members? Who are they praying for, and in what ways? Answers to these questions tell a coach how the leaders are doing.


Perhaps the most critical element of coaching is mentoring the cell leaders. Coaches model what they want the cell leader to copy, and manage them so they are technically doing things right. But if coaches fail to do all this in a relational way, they miss the point of a cell church – “relationships,” not “programs.”

Cell leaders will copy their coach’s example. If coaches only manage, they will produce a bunch of cell leaders who manage but don’t pastor. To produce cell leaders who pastor their people, coaches must pastor their cell leaders. This means being intimately involved in their lives, not discussing only the practical aspects of their leadership. Coaches must care enough about their leaders’ lives to ask how the marriage is going. How much time are they spending with their kids? What’s going on with their job? How’s their personal walk of faith? Their quiet time with the Lord?

This deep level of relationship naturally occurs when a coach oversees cell leaders they have helped raise up from within their own cell. They already are involved in each other’s lives on a personal, pastoral level, and this continues with the addition of the managing and modeling aspects. Whether a cell leader is a product of his or her coach’s cell, or whether the coach inherited this leader along the way, the coach must care for this leader on both a personal and a leadership performance level.

Coaching Wisdom

Tom Landry, former coach of the Dallas Cowboys, said, “A coach is someone who makes people do what they don’t want to do in order to achieve what they’ve always wanted to achieve.” Cell coaches can’t make a cell leader do something, any more than cell leaders can make the people in their cells grow spiritually. But the coaches’ primary tool of motivating cell leaders to success is their influence through modeling, managing and mentoring.

Cell coaches have the vision. They’ve proven themselves as knowing how to pastor people. Through cell coaching, they expand their kingdom impact beyond their personal cell to include multiple cells, and then beyond that to a successful cell system. This system is part of a church that is about God’s Kingdom business of impacting the world for Christ – people getting saved and discipled, leaders being raised up and equipped, Christians living out “one-anothering” in a way that makes the world around them wake up and take notice.